Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Charting the Center and the Margins: Addressing Identity, Marginalization, and Privilege in Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Charting the Center and the Margins: Addressing Identity, Marginalization, and Privilege in Counseling

Article excerpt

In order to address the inequities experienced by individuals who experience multiple forms of marginalization, counselors must be able to make linkages between identity, marginalization, and privilege. Equally important is the need to balance individual counseling with advocacy. This perspective requires counselors to understand how identities intersect and the ways in which a counselor's and client's statuses as members of privileged and marginalized groups influence the therapeutic relationship. These expectations are based on the new Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC), which were recently endorsed by the American Counseling Association. To address these challenges, and to operationalize the MSJCC, the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies--Assessment Form (MSJCC-AF) is introduced. This form incorporates intersectionalities and advocacy with counseling.

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The multicultural and social justice counseling movements allege that they speak for all marginalized groups. Both movements contend they are about promoting inclusion, embracing diversity, and eradicating oppression in all of its forms. Yet individuals who experience multiple forms of marginalization (e.g., transgender individuals of color, women of color) continue to live on the margins. Their experiences are largely ignored in the counseling and psychology literature. While counseling and psychology have made great strides in advancing knowledge of marginalized populations (e.g., people of color), less is understood about issues pertaining to individuals who experience multiple forms of marginalization (e.g., women of color), and even less about how privilege and marginalization intersect in people's everyday lives (e.g., for heterosexual women of color). This outcome exists in part because the dominant discourse within the multicultural and social justice counseling perspectives uses singular analytical categories to conceptualize social identity (Silverstein, 2006). When categories that make up social identity are viewed as mutually exclusive, it can lead to the assumption, for example, that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals are White, or to the erroneous belief that people who experience multiple forms of marginalization do not also benefit from power and privilege if they possess a privileged identity status. Consequently, issues pertaining to individuals who experience marginalization on multiple levels fall between the cracks, and these individuals' stories and lived experiences remain largely untold and undocumented.

All individuals present a multiplicity of intersecting identities, as well as privileged and marginalized statuses, shaped by motivating forces both internal (e.g., sense of self) and external (e.g., societal oppression) that need consideration. This need arises in part because the amalgamation of identities, and of marginalized and privileged statuses, intersects in ways that lead to marginalization for individuals who are multiply marginalized. For example, women of color are twice as likely to live in poverty compared with non-Latina White women (Downing, 2014). These inequities are attributed to experiencing multiple forms of marginalization (Singh, 2010). Attending to these multicultural and social justice issues is critical. Yet the counseling profession's response to the needs of individuals who are marginalized in multiple ways has been grossly inadequate. Moreover, the single analytical framework popular in counseling and psychology fails to acknowledge the multiple categories of social group identity and of intersecting privileged and marginalized statuses that such clients bring to counseling (Savneet, 2010). A new multidimensional framework is needed.

The concept of intersectionality was coined by Crenshaw (1989), who argued the need to integrate the feminist and antiracism movements to acknowledge the experiences of women of color, who were often left out of the discourse on race and gender. …

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